Death of A Thousand Cuts

“Well, that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it, Elie?  It’s rarely one thing that kills you, it’s that gang of relentless demons that finally takes you down, one pulling sneakily from the direction you least expect, as another one gleefully kicks you in the throat, two others clog dancing on your lungs, a tiny one knifing you in the kidneys,” said the skeleton of my father cheerfully.  

You remember I went to see our cousin Eli toward the end, a week or so before he died, actually.  On the phone he’d told me not to bother coming up, that he wouldn’t be very good company.   I told him I was on my way anyway and when I arrived he scowled and handed me the insert from the fentanyl patch he was wearing.  The insert was a long scroll of tightly printed mouse type, a learned collaboration between medical and legal professionals, in a life-saving effort to shield the manufacturer of the drug from liability.

He had some damned, very intense pain nothing could touch (turned out to be from inoperable cancer his children decided he didn’t need to know about) and they’d given him these damn pain patches, which did a little bit to ease the pain, which had been getting worse and worse while nobody could tell him what the hell it was caused by… but he had every damned side effect on the list.  

“Black, tarry stools?” I read from the scroll.  Yop.  The answer was the same curt “yop” to literally every symptom on the list.  Blurred vision, yop, chest pain, yop, difficulty breathing, yop.  Dry mouth, yop, increased thirst, loss of appetite, yop, yop. Muscle pain, numbness and tingling, difficulty urinating.  Yop, yop, yop.   Back pain, diarrhea, yop, yop, loss of strength, yop.  Irritability.  

“What the fuck do you think?” he roared irritably.  

“Yop,” I said and we went down the rest of the list.  We fell into a cadence of symptom, yop, symptom, yop.  

When I left Eli hours later we hugged and I told him I was sorry for not giving him a good fight.   It was very rare to have a visit with him for any amount of time when he wasn’t purple faced with rage at some point.  Fighting was the favorite sport of Eli and my mother, and they never missed a chance for a good brawl.  

“That’s OK,” said Eli patting me as we let each other go.  “We’ll fight next time.”

The next time I saw him, just a few days later, he was in a  hospital bed.   He didn’t know I was there, though the nurse told me to speak to him, that he might be able to hear me.   His wrists and ankles were bound to the bed frame and he was fighting with all his might.

A day or two later he was gone and my father and I were speaking at his funeral, me reading my careful, heartfelt notes, my father improvising like John Coltrane playing over changes for a tune he loved.

                                                               ii 

I was thinking of Eli’s fentanyl side-effects because I’d wound up in the Emergency Room last week with troubling symptoms, which seemed to be getting worse, even though it had been a few days since I’d stopped taking the statin I’d been prescribed a couple of weeks earlier.  My doctor told me to go to the E.R., just to rule out a heart attack.  

I had weakness, numbness, fatigue, muscle spasms in both arms and legs, tingling in both hands, tightness in the chest, pain over the heart, pain radiating down the left arm, odd urinary symptoms and, finally, unreasoning fear at 4 a.m. as all the most ominous symptoms continued to worsen.

As I wait for my $20,000 hospital bill for the sleepless overnight stay I decided to look up the side effects for Crestor.  They include:  weakness, numbness, fatigue, muscle spasms in arms and legs, tingling in hands, tightness in the chest, pain over the heart, pain radiating down the left arm, odd urinary symptoms and unreasoning fear.  

Reading the list I recalled my surprise, in the bathroom of what was, for about eight hours, my hospital room, while urinating into a plastic jug they never collected the urine from to study, to suddenly see blood and cloudiness– two other uncommon but known side effects I hadn’t seen before.    

The thought quickly went through my mind:  Jesus Christ, doc, you might have saved me a lot of worry and thousands of dollars I don’t have if you’d told me to go upstairs, do a quick google search and check how many of these symptoms were known side effects I was advised to contact my doctor if I was experiencing.

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